Al Riozzi’s first sport was baseball. But football is unquestionably his passion.
“Football by far is my favorite sport,” said Riozzi, a member of the Saugerties Sports Hall of Fame’s Class of 2016. “I enjoyed the adrenaline rush when I played. I felt it to be the most instinctive sport out there. There is very little time to think, just time to react.”
Riozzi was born and raised in Saugerties, attended C.M. Riccardi Elementary, and graduated from Saugerties High School in 1983. His first football experience was as a running back and nose guard in the Kingston Pop Warner football league, where he won the William Kitsos Memorial Award in 1976 and 1977. He moved on to two years of modified football at Saugerties Jr./Sr. High, followed by another two of JV. As a junior and senior, Riozzi played running back and linebacker as a varsity Sawyer under head coach Larry Neville.
Two games against Ellenville stand out in Riozzi’s memory.
“Ellenville had an outstanding All-American running back, Walter Moseley, on their team, and had won a large percentage, if not all of their games in the four years that he played,” said Riozzi. “They had beaten us 61-0 in my junior year, a game where I was sent to the hospital with an injury early in the second quarter. My dad and I were driven to the hospital in a police car because no ambulance was available. After sitting in the hospital for what seemed to be hours, I decided that I was fine and I wanted to get back to the game. I ran out of the hospital and jogged back to the field, which had progressed to the latter part of the third quarter. I told coach (Larry) Neville that even though we were losing badly, I desperately wanted to get back in the game, so he let me play.”
Riozzi said the sting of losing by such a large margin stuck with the team into his senior season, which faced off against Ellenville – and Moseley – again. “The entire game was a favorite memory,” Riozzi said. “We — the entire team — held Moseley scoreless for the only time in his career and finished with a 0-0 tie.”
Riozzi moved on to SUNY Albany, where he was briefly a member of the varsity football team. “I worked my way up to a starting fullback position in my freshman year, but experienced an ankle injury which knocked me out for the remainder of the season,” he said. “I only played the one year. At that time I wanted to concentrate more on my grades.”
With fall dedicated to football, Riozzi traded the gridiron for the diamond when the weather was warmer. He spent five summers playing in the Glasco Little League, winning the MVP award in 1977. After that, he moved on to three summers as a centerfielder for Saugerties Babe Ruth.
Riozzi’s Sawyer baseball career followed a similar trajectory as his time playing football. He played the outfield for two seasons on the modified team and two more on the JV before moving up to the varsity level for his junior and senior years.
Riozzi also spent a few years playing basketball with the Saugerties Athletic Association at the Biddy and junior league levels, and as an adult has played in its softball and volleyball leagues.
Riozzi was born on January 15, 1965 to Edward “Bunny” Riozzi, who preceded him into the Hall of Fame, and to Fran Riozzi. His mother is 72 and a cancer survivor. His father passed away in 1996 while president of the Saugerties Babe Ruth League.
“He was a terrific athlete, played baseball, basketball, bowled, and was coach of many championship baseball teams from little league to Babe Ruth,” said Riozzi of his father. “My dad had donated his time, along with my time when I was younger, to help with construction projects throughout the sports complex, dating back 30 years. I guess that’s what got me initially involved with helping out. He was a true competitor in any sport he played.”
Like his father, Al Riozzi has made giving back an important part of his life. “I was and am still involved in local sports by donating time and services to the sports complex in the town of Saugerties, from dugouts to concession stands, [the] wrestling-room addition to the hockey rink, the brick backstop at the Lorenz Field to the current project of assisting with the concrete for the Saugerties Stallions VIP seating at Cantine Field. I enjoy helping out and being a part of something that I consider to be a big part of this community.”
Some of that volunteer work is made possible through AJR Masonry, Inc., a commercial and residential excavation, concrete and masonry business he runs with his wife Lorraine. “In August of 1988, I met a young woman, also born and raised in Saugerties, Lorraine Topple, and within three months we were engaged and married within a year,” said Riozzi. “We have been happily married for 26 years. She is my true partner in every aspect of life.”
The Riozzis also own Riozzi Enterprises, LLC, a real estate and development business. They have two sons, Anthony – who is involved in AJR Masonry – and Michael.
“Both were involved in sports from a very young age, and it has been a pleasure watching them participate from Little League through school and to this day with recreational sports,” said Riozzi. “I have many fond memories of my days of playing sports, but my favorite memory is seeing both of my boys on the varsity football team at the same time, both of them running backs in the backfield. The joy of watching them play football was by far my favorite memory relating to sports.”
The 2016 Saugerties Sports Hall of Fame induction banquet will be held on Saturday, April 16 at 6:30 p.m. at Diamond Mills, with a cocktail and welcoming hours beginning one hour earlier. Tickets are $25 and are available through Mark Becker at 518-641-9520 or firstname.lastname@example.org.